Emanuel Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1992).

This review was published in Critical Review of Books in Religion, 1995.

After writing innumerable articles on the textual criticism of the Old Testament, Emanuel Tov has finally produced a comprehensive introduction to the subject in English (this book is a revised and updated version of his 1989 Hebrew edition). He builds extensively on his previous articles and his book, The Text-Critical Use of the Septuagint in Biblical Research, generally staying with earlier positions, though occasionally modifying them somewhat (e.g., his discussions of "pseudo-variants" and textual rules). Though several introductions to textual criticism have lately been produced (notably those of McCarter, Deist, and, somewhat earlier, Würthwein and Klein), none has the scope of Tov's work. A glance at the table of contents reveals the extent of this project. In addition to the standard "how-to's" of textual criticism and the description of the various witnesses to the text, Tov addresses the problem of the "original text" of the biblical books, the use and abuse of "rules" in evaluating readings, the history of the biblical text and the question of text-types, and the relationship between textual and literary criticism.

The title of the book, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible, is significant both for the perspective of the book and for the material that is covered. Tov says, "Textual criticism mainly takes into consideration the one composition which is reflected in all the known textual sources and which has been accepted as authoritative by Judaism" (p. 172). This statement raises the question of whether Christian communities should likewise accept the edition of a book (e.g., Daniel, Esther, or Jeremiah) which came to be accepted by Judaism (a la Luther), or whether they should instead prefer those versions of the biblical books first accepted by a large part of the early church (so Augustine). As for the material covered, a large portion of the book is dedicated to the details of the Masoretic Text, including the development of vocalization, accents, and the Masora. This is important and helpful material, not found in other introductions. However, the section on the ancient versions (35 pages) is much shorter than that on the Hebrew witnesses (100 pages), and versions other than the Septuagint (and other Greek witnesses) warrant little discussion at all (3 pages on the Targums, 1 1/2 pages on the Peshitta, 1 page on the Vulgate, and 8 lines on the Arabic versions). While it is undoubtedly true that the Septuagint is by far the most important ancient version, Tov does say that "individual important readings are also reflected in the other translations" (p. 122), and one would like to see more information about the versions, especially those translated directly from a Hebrew Vorlage.

Perhaps Tov's most important achievement is his incorporation of new knowledge about the biblical text derived from the scrolls from the Judean Desert . The evidence from these scrolls, Tov says, forces scholars to speak of a multitude of "texts" rather than three text-types (so Albright and Cross). The scrolls also illustrate various scribal practices current in the Second Temple period. One question that arises from his grouping of the scrolls into five categories (proto-Masoretic, pre-Samaritan, texts close to the presumed Hebrew source of the Septuagint, texts written in the Qumran practice, and non-aligned texts) is whether the group written in the Qumran practice, in regard to the text (as opposed to orthography or morphology), has a great enough internal consistency, and enough variation from the other groups, to constitute a distinct group.

This book will undoubtedly become the standard introduction to the textual criticism of the Old Testament. Its lucid style and numerous examples make it enjoyable reading. While it does not answer every question the student of textual criticism might raise, its 400+ pages should address the majority of them. Perhaps more importantly, the book itself raises issues that even experienced textual critics will not have answered satisfactorily. It will give all who read it new questions to ponder.

James R. Adair, Jr.
Scholars Press